The Cordillera del Condor – Ecuador and Peru Turn On Their Own Peoples

Jamie Kneen Communications and Outreach Coordinator responsible for: strategic research, social media, and public engagement; our Africa program, environmental assessment, and uranium mining.

While companies such as Vancouver-based Dorato Resources and IAMGOLD are moving in on the Cordillera del Condor (Condor Mountain Range) along both sides of the Peru-Ecuador border, other Canadian companies, such as Kinross Gold, Corriente Resources, and Dynasty Metals & Mining, are re-establishing their operations on the Ecuadorian side of the Cordillera after that country’s Constituent Assembly shut down all foreign mining operations in the country for most of 2008. Regulations implementing the new Mining Act didn’t emerge until late 2009.

Peru Declares War on Indigenous Peoples

Alan García’s government has tried to expand Peru’s resource-extraction economy at the expense of subsistence farmers and Indigenous peoples through a series of decrees that opened up new areas to mining, oil and gas development, and logging, as well as making it easier for investors to obtain communities’ consent for their projects. Prohibitions against foreign companies acquiring mining rights near international borders have also been selectively lifted, as in the case of Nevada-based Newmont Mining,1 or just evaded by having Peruvian citizens hold mining rights on behalf of foreign interests, as in the case of Dorato.2

The situation has been tense throughout the country but especially so in the northern Amazon and neighbouring mountain regions. The tension peaked this past June 2nd when security forces sent to break up a two-month-long demonstration and roadblock near the town of Bagua opened fire on Indigenous protesters, some of whom retaliated – leaving at least 33 people dead, one policeman missing, and over 200 people injured. The protestors were demanding the repeal of government decrees opening up indigenous lands to oil, mining, and logging companies, in the framework of the free trade agreement (FTA) signed with the United States. Peru’s Congress had already revoked some of the decrees, and after the incident revoked two more of the most controversial decrees.

This clear illustration of the Peruvian government’s inability and unwillingness to protect Indigenous rights and basic human rights was completely ignored by the Canadian government. A free trade agreement that would, among other things, protect Canadian investment in disputes with Indigenous groups and peasant farmers, was passed by the Canadian Senate at the government’s urging without so much as a note of concern mere days after the Bagua massacre. MiningWatch and other groups that had written Senators on this subject received condescending letters from the Government leader in the Senate, Marjorie Lebreton, brushing off our grave concerns as “misconceptions” – almost two months afterwards.

(At the end of December, the commission established to investigate the circumstances of the events at Bagua submitted its report, over the objections of three of the commission members, one of whom was its Chair, who said the report was incomplete and biased, and would serve only to increase tensions.3)

Meanwhile, in August 2009, Awajún and Wampis issued a statement giving Dorato Resources Inc. 15 days to voluntarily leave their territory. According to the Awajún and Wampis, Dorato was granted their mining concession in contravention of Rule 71 of Peru’s Constitution, which prohibits foreign companies to operate a mine near a border. In addition, Dorato’s concession is located in the ancestral territory of the Awajún and Wampis, but had been granted without their having been consulted by the government or the company.4 The company did not comply. Despite this opposition and the clear risk to the region’s water resources, the Peruvian Ministry of Energy and Mines approved Dorato’s Environmental Impact Statement in December,5 much to the alarm of Peruvian observers such as Cooperacción and Indigenous organisations such as AIDESEP, as well as the Awajún and Wampis themselves.

Another Canadian company, IAMGOLD, is also present in Awajun and Wampis territory without their consent; but in contrast with Dorato its operation is completely illegal according to the Ministry of Energy and Mines in Peru. Felipe Ramírez, Director of the Ministry’s Environmental Affairs office, stated in late November, 2009, that the company hasn’t even so much as asked the government for a permit to mine or explore on the Awajún and Wampis territory.67 “What they are doing is illegal,” he said. A company spokesperson said she was “not aware that they did anything illegal.”8

We have been repeatedly told by officials of Foreign Affairs, International Trade, and Natural Resources Canada that “the Canadian government expects Canadian companies to respect and uphold local laws wherever they operate.”

New Mining Law in Ecuador Challenged by Indigenous Peoples and Peasant Farmers

Meanwhile, President Rafael Correa of Ecuador has clearly swallowed the glamorous vision of mining development presented to him in glowing (not to say fantastic) terms by Canadian mining executives and the Canadian Embassy. In a deft political manoeuvre, Correa pushed for the creation of a Constituent Assembly in 2007 to re-write the Ecuadorian Constitution and bypass a deadlocked Congress. In March 2008, the Constituent Assembly, then acting as the de facto legislature, granted amnesty to over 350 activists across the country, including those participating in nine mining conflicts, saying it was “acting in defence of their communities and the environment.” On April 18, 2008, the Assembly suspended mining sector activity for 180 days to allow a new Mining Law to be written. The “Mining Mandate” revoked about 80% of the country’s mineral exploration and mining concessions and suspended the rest.

On April 25, Correa met with representatives of Canadian companies, along with Canadian ambassador Christian Lapointe, who, according to the CBC, “attended the meeting with the mining companies and presented the Canadian government’s concerns over the mining rules.” As he went on to do on many other occasions, Correa gave a speech to a pro-mining rally on May 6, 2008, in which he promised to bring to Ecuador the marvels he imagined Canada’s mining industry to represent: free of conflict and contamination, providing wealth for the country without polluting.9 At the same time he lambasted environmental groups and Indigenous organizations as “infantile” – for opposing large-scale mining in a country covered with ecologically sensitive areas and without any serious regulatory capacity.

Ecuador’s new Constitution was celebrated for enshrining both the Quechua concept of “living well”, sumak kawsay, and Rights for Nature. Nonetheless, the new Mining Law was the first legislation approved under the new Constitution, on January 12, 2009, paving the way for large-scale mining and allowing mining companies to resume work once they were certified to be in compliance with the new law. Finally on November 16, 2009, the regulations under the new law were gazetted, providing investors (and the Canadian Embassy) the “certainty” they had been seeking.

One thing is certain, however: the struggle is far from over. Community groups, environmental groups, and Indigenous organisations are committed to protecting their local economies and Ecuador’s fragile tropical ecosystems, just as President Correa seems to be committed to sacrificing designated mining zones to pay for development initiatives for the country as a whole. There have been ongoing protests, and the national Indigenous organisation CONAIE filed a petition challenging the constitutionality of the Mining Law on March 17, 2009; a second case was filed by the water committees of several communities affected by mining projects in the province of Azuay on March 31. Neither case has yet been heard.

Notes:

1. “Peru Allows Newmont To Receive Mine Concessions Near Border”. Dow Jones Newswires, October 22, 2009. Viewed December 30, 2009 at: http://br.advfn.com/noticias/DJN/2009/artigo/40018155

2. Magali Zevallos Ríos, “Peru - Government opens up mining concessions near Ecuador border”. ALAI, América Latina en Movimiento, August 13, 2009. Viewed December 30, 2009 at: http://alainet.org/active/32345&lang=es

3. Andrew Whalen. “Indian representative rejects official report on Amazon conflict, warns of unrest”. Associated Press, December 29, 2009. Viewed January 4, 2010 at: http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/greenpage/environment/80310577.html

4. “Perú: Indígenas exigen retiro de minera Dorato”. Servicios en Comunicación Intercultural Servindi. August 25, 2009. Viewed January 4, 2010 at: http://www.isuma.tv/fr/servicios-en-comunicaci%C3%B3n-intercultural-servindi/per%C3%BA-ind%C3%ADgenas-exigen-retiro-de-minera-dorato

5. Perú: Aprueban actividad minera en Cordillera del Cóndor y provocan a indígenas Awajún-Wampis”. Servicios en Comunicación Intercultural Servindi. December 17, 2009. Viewed January 4, 2010 at: http://www.servindi.org/actualidad/20381

6. “Peru Says Miner at Odds with Indians Has No Permit”. EFE, 21 November 2009. Viewed January 4, 2010 at: http://www.laht.com/article.asp?ArticleId=347770&CategoryId=14095

7. “Awajun and Wampis Detain Gold Mine Employees.” Intercontinental Cry, December 2, 2009. Viewed January 4, 2010 at: http://intercontinentalcry.org/awajun-and-wampis-detain-gold-mine-employees/

8. Laura Superneau, “IAMGOLD denies unauthorized exploration in Amazonas”. Business News Americas, November 24, 2009. Viewed January 4, 2010 at: http://www.minesandcommunities.org/article.php?a=9677

9. “Ecuador meets with Canadian miners on assets”. Reuters, April 25, 2008. Viewed January 4, 2010 at: http://www.reuters.com/article/idCAN2542382020080425?rpc=44&sp=true.